The old adage is, “To have a friend, you must be one.” The same goes for respect... Read More
No matter how the congregation is accompanied, nothing should detract from their offering of praise... Read More
by Vern Sanders
Even though the church choir has been under attack for a generation, Creator publisher Vern Sanders explores 4 reasons why choirs are still a critical part of worship ministry...
15055 Views 14 Comments 5 Shocking Truths About Director-Accompanists
Unexpected discoveries about the role of a director-accompanist...
12615 Views 20 Comments Funny How Time Slips Away
Vern Sanders examines the state of worship wars, and finds that while the battlefield is very bloody, there is hope for the future.
11271 Views 45 Comments Lessons from 40+ Years as a Choir Director
10 Important Lessons Learned from 40+ years as a Choir Director
8542 Views 0 Comments Think like a television producer
If you think like a TV producer you can make any worship service flow more smoothly
8156 Views 7 Comments Focus on the Ministry You are Really In
3 Ideas to improve the effectiveness of a ministry
7584 Views 1 Comments Conductors as Educators
Good teachers know this: Don’t lecture; offer experiences. We learn best by doing and while having fun. The choir rehearsal is just the place for this...
6933 Views 0 Comments Lessons from 40+ Years of Working with Pastors
7 Important Lessons Learned in 40+ years of working with Pastors
6779 Views 2 Comments Music-Ministry-Equal Pay: Pick Two?
Is a leader's service a simple choice of ministry versus equitable pay? This article contains tools to help a church and its leadership understand the implications of the choices.
6601 Views 0 Comments A Call for Better Music
Creator magazine publisher Vern Sanders issues a call to music publishers to provide better music for the church.
6062 Views 41 Comments 8 Questions to Answer as a Ministry Position Applicant
8 Important Questions to ask and answer as part of your application materials for a position in music/worship ministry.
5999 Views 0 Comments What Do You Do First with a New Choir?
"What do you work on first?" is mostly choir-specific, but many of the same principles apply to a worship team, handbell ensemble, or church orchestra. I'm sure that my system is not the only way, but it has worked (many times!) for me
5883 Views 6 Comments Readers Respond: Should There Be a Written Test?
A follow up to the article 8 Questions to Answer as a Ministry Position Applicant
5834 Views 0 Comments 4 Things to Transform an Underperforming Team
Vern Sanders explains the 4 things that need to be in place to transform an underperforming team
5821 Views 2 Comments 20 Lenten Ideas
A list of 20 ideas of things that a church musician and/or worship leader might do for others by giving something extra during Lent or at any time
5783 Views 0 Comments An Invitation to Silence
There comes a point where a healthy dose of silence is not just therapeutic, it is absolutely necessary to refocus...
5701 Views 1 Comments Revisiting the Church Musician's Salary Scale
For a variety of reasons, few church music or worship professionals are paid what they are worth. This article provides context, help, and resources for those professionals...
5677 Views 0 Comments Dramatizing Mendelssohn's Elijah
A report on a project taking a work like Elijah and without distracting from the definition of the masterful music, creating a production that has renewed meaning to every listener...
5641 Views 0 Comments Lessons from 25+ Years of Being a Music Publisher
5 Important Lessons learned from 25+ years of being a music publisher
5270 Views 0 Comments We Are Family
Creator magazine publisher provides words of encouragement to those serving in church music and worship ministry...
5171 Views 2 Comments A Service of Lessons and Music for Easter
A service of lessons and music (including specific titles) that would serve any church well during the Easter season
5071 Views 0 Comments Marking and Navigating the Musical Score
Details on a 7 step process for conductors to mark musical scores
5008 Views 0 Comments Lessons from 40+ Years of Being a Worship Leader
8 Important Lessons learned from 40+ Years as a Worship Leader
4806 Views 2 Comments It is just a Piece of Paper
Vern Sanders presents the case for why degrees matter and degrees don't matter for today's church musician and worship leader, and why the church needs to find a way to evaluate the competency of those who serve in these ministries.
4799 Views 17 Comments Tenebrae - Using a Large Work in a Worship Service
A Tenebrae service which includes a large work (the Rutter Requiem) that you might use, either in whole, or modified, as fits your local situation
4772 Views 0 Comments Holy Week in the Early Church
An in-depth description of Holy Week in the early church written by noted worship scholar Robert Webber
4638 Views 0 Comments Practical Lessons from an Easter Season
A number of practical musical lessons learned by members of a music ministry over one particular Easter season
4529 Views 1 Comments Blessing+Texting=Blexting
Bless + texting = Blexting. Blexting is the act of texting someone a blessing. The question becomes one of practicality: “Are both texting and blessing topics for worship renewal or is it merely secularized spiritual gimmickry?”
4198 Views 0 Comments Coming Out of the Dark
Creator magazine's publisher Vern Sanders considers the question: how do you recruit new members for your church choir from the community without stepping on the toes of other church music programs?
3801 Views 18 Comments Choir as a Team Sport
Vern Sanders explains how you can apply some of the same "best practices" of sports teams to your choir program
3484 Views 0 Comments End of the Decade Update
A look back at popular and useful examples of Monday Morning Email
3470 Views 0 Comments The Day After Christmas
A short poem written on behalf of all those who serve in the music/arts ministry of local churches
3318 Views 0 Comments Longevity, Adaptability, and Continuing Education
Vern Sanders explains why longevity, adaptability, and continuing education are of paramount importance to today's church musicians and worship leaders
3310 Views 2 Comments Creating Margins
Creating some space between yourself and your limits is a good thing
3171 Views 0 Comments Lead By Getting Out of the Way
These days, worship leaders are in front of a congregation so often that it can easily become matter-of-fact...routine. But in that moment as you wait to enter that holy space, whether for the first time or the thousandth time, you realize that you are expected to lead, and there is nothing more that you can do except get out of the way.
3064 Views 0 Comments Stand Up and Lift Up Your Heads
Vern Sanders reflects that there is something amazing about the power of corporate singing
2929 Views 14 Comments When You Wish Upon a Star
Wanting to be a "star" and being one is not just about wishing and hoping, or settling for a passing grade. Talent is one thing, but week after week you need to show up, and show you are a leader...
2906 Views 3 Comments Revisiting Mission Statements
Vern Sanders wonders when you last looked at your mission statement, and whether you have a leadership plan
2570 Views 0 Comments Finish Like A Pro
Vern Sanders points out that finishing well -- in music and in leadership -- is as important as starting well
2470 Views 5 Comments 22 Practical Music Ministry Tips
Fred Bock and Vern Sanders provide helpful information that every church musician and worship leader needs. These are practical things that aren't generally taught in schools...
2133 Views 8 Comments Cantate Domino Rehearsal Markings
Rehearsal markings for the choral piece Cantate Domino by Hans Leo Hassler
1966 Views 0 Comments What Are You Packing Around?
Vern Sanders talks about parachutes, memory, and imagination, and how all three have an impact on everyone's leadership style...
1665 Views 2 Comments 3 Reasons to Stop Buying Mediocre Music
Vern Sanders explains why the new performance practice repertoire is probably not being written for your church group
1570 Views 5 Comments Theology Can Be Reduced to 3 Songs
Vern Sanders talks about theology, the power of music, and the trinity of hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs
1285 Views 4 Comments Choir in Modern Worship: Flexibility, Poise & Passion - Q & A
Vern Sanders answers questions that were submitted before and during the July 10, 2012 Choir in Modern Worship MasterClass event
907 Views 0 Comments Top 10 Leadership Tips from a Worship Wars Survivor - Q & A
Vern Sanders answers questions that were submitted before and during the June 12, 2012, MasterClass Top 10 Leadership Tips from a Worship Wars Survivor
817 Views 0 Comments Creator Update
an update on the state of Creator
351 Views 0 Comments
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The church choir has been
under attack for a generation
At the church I served from 1984-1999, the youngest aged children's choir was called "Joyful Noise." And boy did they make some...along with, on a fairly regular basis, something unexpected. My favorite memory of this group is the young lady who simply rocked back and forth on her feet and, with a big smile on her face, waved continually at her family while the rest of the children sang their appointed round.
The sheer joy of the singing (and waving) participants in a children's choir is easy to spot, and, for adults these days, somewhat harder to understand. It seems as if the whole generation of children from that time period, at some time around junior high school age, particularly boys, got that joy of singing in a choir ground out of them by culture, peer pressure, and, more and more, the allure of passive pursuits like watching television, playing video games, and texting. And those children are now in, or close to, their thirties...and many of them are pastors.
The last thing I want to communicate is a "that younger generation!" kind of reactionary rhetoric. But the institution of the church choir, and the joy of singing in such a choir, has been under attack across the US almost continuously during and since my time at that church. Let me count some of the ways:
Choirs became the casualties of a double edged sword: The more people (especially marketers trying to sell "hip" new products to the leadership of "contemporary" churches) said to church leadership that choirs didn't belong in the church, the more churches shifted resources away from choir ministries. As more and more resources were shifted away from choir ministries, those that participated in those ministries became increasingly marginalized. The more marginalized those that participated in choir ministries became, the less influence they had on leadership. Choirs became an "endangered ministry." Choir ministry leadership abandoned the churches in droves. Twenty plus years later, there were many towns and cities in America in which choir ministries were hard to find, if not completely gone.
Choirs are not relevant anymore
Choirs are old fashioned
Choirs sing boring music
Choirs are made up of old people
We at Creator have watched...and felt...this killing off of choir ministries with a mixture of incredulity, horror, and helplessness. Surely, we thought, something as basic as the Scriptural call to "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord" could not deliberately disenfranchise any group of people who gathered to sing. Surely the desire to have someone lead a group of people who wanted to sing together could not solely be fulfilled by a person holding a guitar. Surely the longing to learn to sing with excellence was an acceptable way to "Bring honor to His name." Surely John's Revelation that he heard "every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing" meant that earthly choir ministries were the best possible preparation for eternity.
Choirs are Not Dead
Apparently we were right.
All of a sudden, in the last year or so, choirs seem to be everywhere:
And, believe it or not, in spite of all the efforts to do eliminate them, choirs are still found in the church.
On television (Glee, and Sing Off, for instance)
On the internet (Choirs are one of the most common flash mobs going these days on You Tube, and Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir videos are well documented viral hits)
On the big screen (the recent release of the movie Joyful Noise)
According to a study done by Chorus America, there are more than 32.5 million church choir members across the US. To put that into perspective, that is roughly equivalent to the population of the state of California. Those singers show up every week, and every week they make a significant joyful noise.
Choirs Are Communities
There are several reasons for this choir survival in the church, one of the most important of which is that choirs – whether found in churches or not – create community. As well-known soloist and choral conductor Doug Lawrence declares, “I know how encouraging, uplifting, and mysterious the human voice is, especially when joined with other human voices. There’s a lot more to it than that, though. In the church the human voice forms microcosmic communities dedicated to enriching the lives of macrocosmic institutions.”
Those choir communities are often the “biggest small group” in a church. Because of the nature of choir ministry, people who participate in that ministry are leaders in the church, be they an elder, a deacon, or the church admin. In the best choir communities, people form close relationships. They take care of each other, like Alice White, who chauffeurs her friend Flo to and from rehearsals during the winter because Flo doesn’t like to drive in the dark, or Dan Odum, who sat next to his friend Charlie for years “for the good of the choir” because Charlie had trouble matching pitches when he decided to join the choir.
Why do choir members go the extra mile? Because they are called to choir ministry. As Heather G. Stubbs puts it: “I sing with a 60-voice choir. We’ve just finished a 3-performance weekend. Exhausting but great fun!”
Vicki Carr, of First Baptist Church, Texarkana, Texas tells this story: “In our choir, we have a “special” friend, 24 years old, who has the mind of a 10-year-old. He listens to the rehearsal CD, constantly, and concentrates on learning our music with everything he has. His nice voice, and his sincere worship and love of Jesus make him a delightful, if somewhat uninhibited, choir member. Our body has taken him in; some have bought him clothes, others transport him to his group home after a late rehearsal. At the same time he touches our hearts, as he prays, earnestly, for people in his group home, for his mother, and for the underprivileged.”
That these examples are not unusual is evidenced by the fact that a choir as a community who cares, and challenges each other to be better – both musically, and as people – forms the plot line to the movie Joyful Noise, which stars Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton.
Choirs Touch People at the Deepest Level
Choir is family, and together can experience God, and His blessings, in a unique and eternal way. Carr explains that when choirs sing, there is more to their message than just music: “At a Christmas rehearsal, our guest artist, Babbie Mason was rehearsing “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” a song R__ had never heard. Babbie delivers this song with passion, and I happened to glance in R__’s direction and saw him weeping. I went over and hugged him and said, ‘you have a tender heart, don’t you?’ He just shook in my arms. His own mother would not have understood, but I did. The music and the lyrics reached him at a deep level. And at that moment, his 10-year-old mind understood something the most sophisticated scholars cannot.“ Lura Milner says: “Years later, I still hear, in my head, choir music that I have sung, and I feel a deep sense of connection to the people with whom I was singing.”
In the Joyful Noise movie, the plot revolves around the struggles a choir, and its members face, but the star of the movie is the music. In the pre-release screening I attended, it was the music (superbly written and arranged by former Take 6 member Mervyn Warren) that produced the biggest reaction. In talking with several of the reviewers after the screening, that was the common theme. The music genuinely moved people from where they were in life, to a place of praise.
Choirs Lead Worship in a Way that Is Hard to Duplicate
There is something about the energy in a worship space when a choir is there that just doesn’t happen when a choir is not. Choirs give focus to congregational singing through their joyful noise, and project an energy from the platform that can’t be duplicated by turning up a knob on an amplifier. There is a visceral connection between a group of singers and a group of listeners that is almost like an invisible force. Choirs, through their joyful (and sometimes lamenting) noise, express feelings that congregants often didn’t know they had.
In his book, Ministry and Music, Robert Mitchell discusses Kierkegaard’s model of worship in which every person present is an actor and God is the Audience. In this context he writes, “...the choir exists to prompt and enable each worshipper to worship; each choir member is at the same time prompter and individual worshiper before God.”
My own Lutheran background meant that, growing up, the choir’s place was in the “choir loft” which was in the back of the church. At that time, and for many years thereafter, I believed that placing the choir in an unseen location meant that the congregation could concentrate upon listening to the beauty and majesty of the choir’s music without being distracted by the visuals. I have become convinced, however, that a choir’s place is with the rest of the worship leadership team, to serve as prompters in worship. Seeing the emotion of the choir members as they sing their message can be a powerful ministry – and can touch even those who suffer from hearing impairment. As Elmer Crosby says: “I no longer sing...but on Sunday I sit in the congregation and worship as the choir sings.”
Church Choirs Need to Celebrate, and to be Celebrated
Personally, I have reached my limit. I am tired of apologizing for why choirs need to be in churches. (I hasten to say that at the church I now serve, there is a choir – a great choir – and both the leadership and the congregation at large is very supportive of the choir’s ministry.) If a choir knocked down the walls of Jericho, I say it is time to knock down the prejudices about choirs.
One small step in that process is for churches to intentionally celebrate choirs, and their ministries. Many churches have a “choir recognition Sunday,” where all the choirs in the church participate in the same worship service. Sometimes this service takes the form of a “dedication,” often with a commissioning liturgy, in much the same manner as a congregation might send off a missionary or a youth group mission trip. In other cases it is more of a “music is the message” event, where the choir(s) present(s) the sermon in a musical form, either by doing an extended sacred work, or several anthems around a specific theme.
National Choir Recognition Sunday
Interestingly enough, there was an “official” National Choir Recognition Sunday on January 8, 2012. Among the people who are supporting this movement are Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah, each of whom have done public service announcements on behalf of this event. You can find links to those video PSAs here.
Whether you are a singer or a director, I encourage you to go to the official facebook page for the NCRS [http://is.gd/gH6xKY] and “like” it, if for no other reason than to show the extent of your support for choirs in churches, and their ministry. The more there are, the more people who will realize that church choirs are blessing and ministering to people.
We at Creator have never forgotten that choirs have been an integral part of music and worship ministry for over a thousand years. Even though choir ministry has been under attack, we believe that the stylistic pendulum has begun to move back, and that choirs will be a significant part of music and worship ministry as we go forward in the twenty first century. We intend to continue to provide resources for those involved in choir ministry, both singers and directors, both in our magazine, and here at creatormagazine.com.
If you agree, I encourage you to lift your voice and make a joyful noise.
In addition to being the publisher of Creator magazine, Vern has served in some form of church music and worship leadership for 40 years in a variety of denominations both in the US and in Canada.He is currently Director of Music at First Presbyterian Church, Templeton, California. He regularly consults with churches and church leaders. Click on his name above to email him.
© 2012 Creator Magazine All Rights Reserved
11 days ago
I have a friend who sells choir robes. Guess what, her company is growing. I sing regularly with the choir at First Presbyterian in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Guess what, our choir is growing.
30 days ago
Great article, Vern! I wholeheartedly agree.
1 years 63 days ago
You make valid points, but if a choir is not vibrant and just sings without leading in worship, they are just as effective in the audience.
1 years 70 days ago
Another great article Vern. You have such great way of putting words to these concepts that many choir directors know instinctively, but often are unable to express them. One more thought to add to yours and John Cotten's reasons as to why choirs are so important, important enough that they were the musical foundation upon which the Temple Worship of David and Solomon was based upon. It's this: In the light of talent—who's got it, who doesn't—choirs also help amplify our Spiritual Gifts. People are appreciated deeply for the non-musical gifts they bring. Even the weak ones—like Vikki Carr's "special friend." “In our choir, we have a 'special' friend, 24 years old, who has the mind of a 10-year-old." The weak ones help us remember that our worth comes from the Gospel truth that Jesus loves. He expects us to love each other as He loved us. We do that also through our Spiritual Gifting... Somehow, I've experienced that more in choir than anywhere else.
1 years 73 days ago
Thanks for the encouraging article,Vern. Composers need a boost too. I like to think that by writing good passionate music that makes church choirs sound good, we composers help our choirs stay strong.
1 years 73 days ago
Couldn't agree more, Pepper...and it is those "fresh" (i.e. non-formulaic) anthems that, in their own way, contribute to worship renewal through the choir's efforts. Any time we get musical "same-old, same-old" people start to tune out. And I don't think that the simple answer of "louder, faster, higher" works any more. Just this past Sunday, our choir did a very slow spiritual with energy and commitment, and it contributed mightily to worship. (As an aside, my choir loves to sing your anthems when they come around...one of their favorites is Deep Waters...)
1 years 87 days ago
Thanks, Vern, for the reminder. One additional "plus" for choirs in worship: they are participatory. People actually get involved, rather than just spectate. In an age where the line between authentic worship and good, wholesome entertainment has been blurred, it is important that worshipers "do" worship, as opposed to just watching it. In some ways, this is similar to being doers of the Word and not hearers only. It is good when worship is led by 3 or 4 vocalists, but better when it's 30 or 40!
1 years 87 days ago
Well stated, Vern. Thanks for the encouraging words!
1 years 87 days ago
Thanks, Dave. This is an updated version of a feature article from a recent issue of the magazine. I think it is time we all stopped apologizing for choirs in worship, and I'm guessing you would agree. Hope all is well in Houston...
Lessons from 25+ Years of Being a Music Publisher
by Vern Sanders
November 22, 2010
Yet More Important Things...
apologize. I made a promise to stop after last month's MME
about things I've learned from working with pastors
, because I thought it would get me in trouble. Actually quite the opposite happened. Combined with the response to August's list of things I've learned from being a choir director
, and September's list of things I've learned from being a worship leader
, there seems to be a real appreciation of these lists, so I've decided to continue to write about stuff I've learned. If you arrived here in the middle of this series of things and are not sure about my motives, I am trying to relate practical things here, not just rant, althought the temptation to do the latter is powerful at times.
In the process, of course, I am revealing something of my history, experience, and, most of all, my opinions about things. I have been blessed to be involved in church music and worship leadership in a wide variety of settings and with a similar variety of roles.
Lessons from 40+ Years of Working with Pastors
by Vern Sanders
October 25, 2010
Even More Important Things...
OK. I promise to stop after this one, because it will probably get me in trouble. People seemed to like August's list of things I've learned from being a choir director, and last month's list of things I've learned from being a worship leader, so I thought I'd tell a bit more stuff I've learned. If you've heard me speak at a conference, you know that, by and large, I like pastors. But sometimes I have had to grit my teeth.
Before this particular MME went to print, as I often do, I asked some people I trust to read it and give me their reactions. In most cases the responses went something like this: "I agree with everything you are saying, but I'm not sure you should say it." So I let it sit for a while and came back to it, intending to change what needed to be changed. And instead of changing anything, I decided to write this paragraph. The most important thing that you need to know about this week's MME is this: If you actually read this, you will realize that I am not pastor bashing here. In fact, in most of my items, I am saying let anyone who is without sin throw the first stone...and I don't expect to see any flying projectiles, and I'm definitely not throwing any. I have been blessed to work with some amazing (and some not so amazing) pastors. Pastors, like musicians, have their idiosyncracies. I would not want to be one, because the job description is overwhelming, awesome, and, at times, crushing. What follows below are compilations from (look above) 40+ years of experience, observation, and listening to both pastors and musicians complain about each other.
Lessons from 40+ Years of Being a Worship Leader
by Vern Sanders
September 27, 2010
More Important Things...
People seemed to like last month's list of things I've learned from being a choir director, so I thought I'd tell you some more stuff I've learned. Many of these things are not original...but over a lot of years they have repeated themselves often enough to be important. They have stood the test of time, so to speak, and, if you are starting out in ministry, you might want to print this list and put it somewhere that you can find it in 25 years. This is not a "ranked" list. It is just a list.
People Feel Strongly About What is Familiar to Them
Love it or hate it, people are comfortable with the familiar. There is a peace about knowing "what comes next." In these days of economic unease, life is more unsettled than it has been in recent memory, and studies are showing that the stress level of the typical human is markedly elevated.
Lessons from 40+ Years as a Choir Director
by Vern Sanders
August 23, 2010
Ten Important Things...
You will notice I didn't say that these are the Top 10 things I've learned. If there is another thing I've learned in my life, it's that the "Top" 10 things can change. So let's just say that when I sat down to write this month's MME, these were the 10 things I thought were most important to communicate to you today. Many of these things are not original. Some were told to me by older directors when I was just an angry young conductor. But these have stood the test of time, so to speak, and if you are an angry young conductor, you might want to print this list and put it somewhere that you can find it in 25 years. This is not a "ranked" list. It is just a list.
They should sing more than you talk
Most conductors are drawn to the profession, at least in part, because they think they know more than other people. They enjoy the power of leading people. And they are not afraid to share their expertise and views.
But there are only two reasons why the singers could be listening to the conductor more than they are singing:
Attitudes of the